Mozambique: Attorney-General Briefs Assembly On 'Hidden Debts'

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Maputo — Mozambican Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili, in her annual report to the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Wednesday announced that, after almost four years of investigation, prosecutors have charged 20 suspects in connection with the financial scandal usually known as the "hidden debts".

This refers to the loans of over two billion US dollars granted by the European banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia to three fraudulent companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), on the basis of illicit loan guarantees issued by the government of the time, headed by President Armando Guebuza.

The 20 suspects, Buchili said, are accused of crimes including corruption, money laundering, blackmail, falsification of documents, use of false documents, embezzlement, abuse of office, abuse of trust, and membership of a criminal organisation.

She did not name the suspects, but it is already public knowledge that they include members of Guebuza's inner circle, including his oldest son, Ndambi Guebuza and his personal secretary Ines Moiane. At the heart of the fraudulent companies is the intelligence service, SISE, and several former SISE officials are among those detained.

They include the man who headed SISE under Guebuza, Gregorio Leao, and the former head of SISE economic intelligence, Antonio do Rosario, who became chairperson of Proindicus, Ematum and MAM, and publicly boasted of attempting to thwart the audit of the three companies.

Nine of the accused are in preventive detention, said Buchili, and prosecutors have also seized 15 buildings, six vehicles and one piece of heavy construction equipment, because of indications that these were illicitly obtained with money from the fraudulent loans. 31 bank accounts belonging to, or connected with, the suspects have been frozen.

The Attorney-General's Office (PGR) has opened an "autonomous case" against four other suspects, including Guebuza's Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, who is currently under police custody in South Africa.

Chang was detained on 29 December at Johannesburg airport on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the US authorities, who carried out their own investigation into the scandal. The US claims jurisdiction because US banks were used to pay kickbacks and bribes to beneficiaries of the corrupt scheme, and part of the illicit debts were sold on to American institutions.

Buchili complained that the US authorities had never replied to letters from her office, sent since June 2017, requesting information. Yet it was clearly the American arrest of Chang that precipitated the arrests in Mozambique. Buchili's office now wants the South Africans to extradite Chang to Mozambique, and the South African Justice Minister must decide whether Chang will be extradited to the US or to Maputo.

Buchili said the PGR had received responses to requests sent to France, Switzerland, Holland and Britain, but received no cooperation from the United Arab Emirates - which is where Privinvest, the company which became the sole contractor for Ematum, Proindicus and MAM is based.

One senior Privinvest figure, Jean Boustani, was arrested on a US warrant in January, and is currently awaiting trial in New York. The Privinvest Chief Financial Officer, Najab Allam, has also been indicted, but is not yet in custody.

Buchili also announced that the PGR has hired "international experts to help us identify, seize and value other assets" from the fraudulent scheme, that may exist inside and outside Mozambique. It has also taken the offensive against Privinvest and Credit Suisse, by initiating a civil suit in a British court.

"There is no doubt that these are matters of great complexity and are transnational in scale", said the Attorney-General. "The search for elements that will allow a court to undertake effective justice depends on the judicial collaboration of various countries, an exercise which is not always compatible with the desired speed".

"The fight against such transnational organised crime as corruption, money laundering and terrorism, requires the commitment of all states", declared Buchili, "and so we are appealing strongly to the countries from whom we have requested information, to ensure that justice can be done and thus contribute to strengthening the credibility of our country".

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